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Pope Francis’s Dirty War Dealings

There’s evidence that the new pope knew of the Argentine dictatorship’s role in disappearing citizens and children, says Horacio Verbitsky.

By Horacio Verbitsky | 15 March 2013
The Daily Beast

Men detained by police during largest anti-government demonstration since the 1976 military takeover; Buenos Aires, 1982. Nearly a decade earlier, Priest Pedro Arupe and priest Jorge Mario Bergoglio, right, give a Mass at the church in the El Salvador school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1973, prior to the peak of the Dirty War. (Eduardo DiBaia / AP, El Salvador School / AP)

Graciela Yorio—sister of theologian and Third World priest Orlando Yorio, who accused Father Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) of being responsible for his abduction by military forces during Argentina’s Dirty War and the torture he endured for five months in 1976—wrote me. “I can’t believe it. I’m so anguished and enraged I don’t know what to do. He got what he wanted. I’m seeing Orlando in the dining room, a few years ago, saying ‘He wants to be pope.’ He’s the man to cover up the rot. He’s the expert at cover-ups … My brother Fito called me, sobbing.”

Orlando Yorio died in 2000, long before Bergoglio told an Argentine court in November 2010 that he had only learned of the existence of the chicos apropiados (children of the disappeared given up for adoption) after the military dictatorship ended. Another Argentine court, in reviewing the systematic plan for appropriating the children of the disappeared, received documents indicating that in 1979 Bergoglio was well aware of the practice and intervened in at least one case. After meeting with family members of Elena de la Cuadra, abducted in 1977 while in her fifth month of pregnancy, Bergoglio gave them a letter for the Bishop of La Plata asking him to intercede with the military government.  That’s how her family learned that Elena had given birth to a baby girl, who was given away and would never be returned.

Pope Francis bows to the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on March 13, 2013. (Luca Bruno / AP)

In a written declaration to the courts concerning the abduction of Yorio and another Jesuit, Francisco Jalics, Bergoglio said there were no documents in the episcopal archive relating to the disappeared. But the priest who succeeded him, José Arancedo, sent Judge Martina Forns a copy of the record of a meeting between military dictator Jorge Videla and Bishops Raúl Primatesta, Juan Aramburu, and Vicente Zazpe in which they speak with extraordinary frankness about whether or not to say that the disappeared have been executed—because Videla wants to protect the murderers.

I’m not so sure Bergoglio was chosen to cover up the church’s current rot—the Vatican Bank’s transparency problem, the pedophile priests who’ve been exposed across the globe. It wouldn’t surprise me if, instead, Bergoglio launched a moral crusade to white the apostolic sepulchers.

What I’m sure of is this: the latest Bishop of Rome is and will be an ersatz version of himself, like the water mixed with flour that indigent mothers use to cheat their children’s hunger. An Argentine friend writes from Berlin, shocked that the Germans are taking the new pope for a true representative of the Third World, a tercermundista. He does come from the Third World, but that’s an entirely different thing. The confusion reminds me of Admiral Rubén Chamorro, director of the ESMA, who said to French envoy François Cherome in 1979, “The Church, too, has been corrupted and infiltrated by Communism. Don’t you know that the Pope [John Paul II] is Polish?”

Pope Francis with Leader of military junta General Jorge Videla

Bergoglio is a conservative populist, like Pius XII and John Paul II: inflexible on matters of doctrine but open to the world and, especially, to the poorest among us.  When he gives his first mass as pope and speaks of those exploited and prostituted by the blind powers that be who have closed their hearts to Christ; when his journalist friends write about how he always took the subway or the bus (a habit not confirmed by a priest who served as his chauffeur when he led the Argentine Jesuits, and who remembers Bergoglio talking enthusiastically about the political project of Admiral Massera, a member of the military junta); when the faithful hear him reciting homilies with the gestures of an actor and the plain speech of a simple man of the people, there will be those transported with joy over this supposed renewal of the church. In the archdiocese of Buenos Aires, he did all of that and much more. But at the same time, he sought to unify opposition to the first Argentine government in many years to adopt policies favorable to the less fortunate; he accused that government of being rigid and confrontational because it had to contend with the same blind powers that be he chastises in his speeches, who dislike paying their taxes.

Now he’ll be operating on a whole new scale.  Pius XII received financing from the incipient CIA to reinforce the Christian Democrats and prevent a Communist victory in the first post-war Italian elections; John Paul II helped bring about the downfall of communism in Europe. The Argentine pope might be able to do the same for Latin America. His past connections to the Peronist Iron Guard, which Admiral Massera recruited in the service of his failed presidential project, along with the populist appeal that Bergoglio has never lost, will allow him to apostrophize the exploiters and preach meekness to the exploited as leader of a right-wing populism that seeks to undermine whatever left-wing populism still truly exists.

Translated by Esther Allen

Horacio Verbitsky is one of Argentina’s leading investigative journalists, and a columnist and press freedom activist. He has built his distinguished career by fearlessly exposing government corruption and battling restrictive press laws. A working journalist since 1960, Verbitsky’s relentless pursuit of a story has earned him his nickname el perro, or the dog. His best-selling book “The Flight” contained the first public confessions of an official involved in Argentina’s “dirty war” and related how hundreds of prisoners of the military regime from 1976 to 1983 were thrown to their deaths from airplanes. Verbitsky has played a front-line role in strengthening democracy and safeguarding press freedoms in Argentina and Latin America.

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